The ONE Essential You Need for Winter Travel: Packing Light for Cold Weather


Due to an upcoming trip to Iceland, Finland, and Estonia (less than a week now – ah!) I decided to try my hand at packing carry-on only again. But this time, it’s all cold-weather items, which tend to be bulkier. Read on to learn about the one essential that helps me the most with packing light layers for winter travel, a sneak peek at how I fit all my shirts and pants into two packing cubes, and more!

Table of Contents

My One Essential for Winter Travel

If you’re heading somewhere cold and want to try keeping your layers light, I have one word for you: THERMALS! Thermal shirts, leggings, socks – all of it – are lifesavers. If you’re not familiar with thermals, prepare to have your world rocked. Thermals are thin layers that are compact yet surprisingly retain your body heat better than regular clothing, and they’re absolutely essential if you want to avoid bulking up your luggage.

I currently have two sets of thermal shirt/legging combos and one pair of socks, and they come in handy so often for me during winter weather both at home and on trips. I got the first set of thermals during a semester abroad in London – fun fact, they were super cheap due the store having a close-out sale – but recently purchased a second set from Uniqlo’s HEATTECH Collection. They’re even thinner but still keep me SO warm. Check out the photos below for the two items that I have, and click here to check out the entire HEATTECH collection – for men and women! By the way, I don’t get any commission on these – I’m just a big fan. 🙂

Other Winter Travel Essentials to Stay Warm (while looking cute!)

Besides the thermals, there are a few other essentials that help me pack light and stay warm for cold weather.

Wool socks

Socks made with merino wool will help keep your feet warm and dry without being too bulky! I got a great pair of short socks from SmartWool that I can wear with ankle boots and stay warm.

Cozy, preferably colorful hats and scarves

Since you’ll probably be wearing your coat for a lot of outdoor photos, it’s helpful to have a pop of color (or simply contrast) with your accessories. I recently bought a red knit headband and a cute new light gray pompom beanie (pictured above) that I’m planning to bring with me, along with a pink and tan travel-themed scarf from Kate Spade.

Gloves with tech-friendly fingertips

It’s great to simply have gloves that keep your fingers warm, but it gets old pretty damn quick to have to take them off repeatedly simply to use your phone. So, be sure to get gloves that have tech-friendly fingertips!


Depending on your viewpoint, these may seem like either a no-brainer or a weird addition to the list. However, even if you’re in a snowy location, the sun could still be shining bright – and reflecting off of the snow! So, be sure to pack at least one pair of sunnies just in case.

Packing Sneak Peek

For my entire trip, I’ll be packing 3 sweaters, 1 long sleeve shirt, 1 camisole, 2 jeans, 2 leggings, 2 pajama sets, and 2 sets of thermals – in addition to my other miscellaneous items. Even though this is technically a small amount of items for a 10-day trip, it still sounds pretty bulky, right? Well, fear not! Here’s a sneak peek of how I was able to fit all of it in my carry-on backpack – with room to spare.

Step 1. Separate clothes by shirts and pants.

*And others, but we’ll stick to shirts and pants for this example. I like to separate them into piles to stay organized.

Step 2. Roll up each garment and stack inside small to medium-sized packing cubes. 

Step 3. Place packing cubes adjacent to each other across bottom layer of backpack.

Note: I left out a pair of leggings and a white sweater that I’ll be wearing on the plane to Iceland. For packing, I’ll place another packing cube on top of my hiking shoes since I want them to stay at the bottom of the backpack below. This way, the shoes will be closer to my back. Weight distribution makes all the difference!

And there you have it: a quick and easy intro to packing light for winter!

So what do you think: are you going to try carry-on packing on your next winter trip? What items are essentials for you?

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P.S. This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which means I may earn a commission (at no extra cost to you) if you purchase from them. All opinions are still 100% my own.

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